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Body Talk: The Smelly Scalp (And Hair) Syndrome

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How to get rid of smelly hair and scalp

Welcome to our Body Talk series where our in-house Nykaa editors cover educational and important conversations on body health.

Everyone can have a bad hair day but this goes somewhat beyond that. Smelly Scalp (or Hair) Syndrome has one striking symptom: a nose flinching odor that emanates from strands and scalp. Various people have described it akin to “the stink of a dirty diaper”, “dirty, wet socks”, “a jacket that’s never gone to the cleaners” and the worst, “yesterday’s vomit”.

Of course, the most obvious explanation is lazy hygiene. Scalp Odor (like BO) could be the result of not washing regularly. After all, you wouldn’t hold off showering for three days so why would wait that long before washing your hair? Like the rest of your skin, your scalp has oil glands too and if you don’t wash it often enough, sweat and oil can build up. Once bacteria start breaking that down what you get is a godawful stench bad enough to wake the dead.        

But before you scratch your head in disbelief thinking “but I shampoo regularly and yet…” know that smelly hair can be caused by more than not just washing enough. Oily hair is more prone because it tends to pick up environmental pollutants and strong odors. Besides that, some other culprits include seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis, fungal infections, allergic contact dermatitis, endocrine gland overactivity and metabolic or hormonal disorders. 

So, what’s a SSS survivor to do? We spoke to leading trichologist Dr Sandip Sattoor who says that regular washing with the right shampoo is the only way to keep the stench away. “Ideally you should be cleansing your scalp daily but if that’s not always possible then at least every alternate day. The only way to cure the small is to wash it out.”  If your hair is thicker or coarser, you can stretch this time frame a bit because such scalps tends to have fewer oil glands per square inch. Conversely, if you have thin or fine hair, you have more oil glands and you’ll have to wash more often.

But all’s not lost if you can’t wash regularly. There are some best shampoos for smelly scalp which help to get rid of smelly hair. These wonderful powder formulas prevent/camouflage scalp smells by soaking up excessive oil and imparts a fragrance. Keep this nifty mini Batiste Dry Shampoo Floral & Flirty Blush Seduction Fleurie handy to ward off smells or for touch-ups when your hair starts smelling iffy.

Smelly Scalp Syndrome

If you and your doctor haven’t been able to identify the cause of smelly scalp, it’s a good idea to use different shampoos that target the common culprits—fungi, bacteria and inflammation—and reduce oiliness. You should ideally start with a once-a-day shampooing regimen with an antibacterial cleanser alternating with a ketoconazole or zinc infused shampoos and a sulphur shampoo containing salicylic acid. This will definitely help in getting rid of the smelly scalp. So, on Day One use WOW Skin Science Apple Cider Vinegar Shampoo No Sulphate Paraben Free, a manna for oily scalps, on Day 2 try Wella Professionals SP Clear Scalp Anti-Dandruff Shampooand on Day 3, use L’Oreal Professionnel Serie Expert Volumetry Salicylic Shampoo. Ideally after lathering, the formula should be left on the scalp for three minutes before rinsing out. Finally, after your hair is dry, gently massage three drops of peppermint oil (Nykaa Naturals Peppermint Essential Oil) infused in Jojoba oil (Nykaa Naturals Jojoba Facial Oil - Pure Cold Pressed) into your scalp. These oils will mask any lingering odors keeping you (and your friends) happy.

Good news for DIY divas, there are cheap and cheerful remedies aplenty for SSS.

  • Rinsing your hair with baking soda can help. Add one teaspoon of baking soda to one cup of water along with a few drops of rosemary oil (Nykaa Naturals Rosemary Essential Oil). Leave it on your scalp for 20 minutes and rinse out with cool water.
  • Or else, mix 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar with 3/4 cup water, ten drops of rosemary essential oil and 1/8 cup lemon juice. Apply on your scalp for 30 minutes and rinse off with cool water.
  • Garlic apparently doesn’t just ward off vampires. It also dispels smells. Thanks to its high sulphur content, garlic is the queen of anti-fungals. Here’s what you need to do. Heat 4 garlic cloves in half-a-cup of coconut oil. Leave to steep for an hour. Then apply on your scalp with a ball of cotton. Massage into your scalp and leave on for 30 minutes before shampooing.
  • Tea tree oil’s antibacterial properties are legendary. It works wonders against stinky scalps and dandruff. Mix a few drops of Aroma Treasures Tea Tree Pure Essential Oil in a cup of water and apply on your scalp. Leave on your scalp for 30 minutes and rinse out with a mild shampoo.  You can do this once a week.
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